May 26, 2006, Version
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The above "Scale of Things" chart was designed by the Office of Basic Energy Sciences (BES) for the U.S. Department of Energy using U.S. taxpayers dollars; therefore, the chart is not copyrighted. Feel free to use this graphic
; however, we would be grateful for the proper attribution.
Nanoscale science, engineering, and technology are fields of research in which scientists and engineers manipulate matter at the atomic and molecular level in order to obtain materials and systems with significantly improved properties. Ten nanometers is equal to one-thousandth the diameter of a human hair.
For decades, microstructures—which are thousands of times larger than nanostructures—have formed the basis for our technologies, e.g., ceramics and alloy fabrication and electronics. Although microstructures are small on the scale of direct human experience, their physics is still largely the same as that of the bulk macroscopic systems.
However, nanostructures are fundamentally different. Their characteristics—especially their electronic and magnetic characteristics—are often significantly different from the same material in the bulk. Nanostructures are, in a sense, a unique state of matter—one with particular promise for new and potentially very useful products.
Exploring the science of nanostructures has become a new theme common to many disciplines. In electronics, nanostructures represent the limiting extension of Moore's law and classical devices to small devices, and they represent the step into quantum devices and fundamentally new processor architectures. In catalysis, nanostructures are the templates and pores of zeolites and other vitally important structures. In condensed matter physics, the nanometer length scale is the largest one over which a crystal can be made essentially perfect. In materials sciences, fabrication using nanostructures results in alloys and composites with radically improved properties. In molecular biology, nanostructures are the fundamental machines that drive the cell—histones and proteosomes—and they are components of the mitochondrion, the chloroplast, the ribosome, and the replication and transcription complexes. The ability to precisely control the arrangements of impurities and defects with respect to each other, and the ability to integrate perfect inorganic and organic nanostructures, holds forth the promise of a completely new generation of advanced composites.
As part of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, DOE's Office of Science is supporting investigators in universities and national laboratories in various areas of nanoscience. In addition, BES Nanoscale Science Research Centers provide critically needed user facilities for synthesis, processing, fabrication, and analysis of materials at the nanoscale.